FRIDAY FOCUS: Mike O'Hara says the Browns have caught the Lions at the right time

Posted Oct 11, 2013

Columnist Mike O'Hara sees the Lions losing a tough one in Cleveland on Sunday

Roster roulette isn't a game in the NFL. It is an ongoing enterprise played for high stakes, and it's open for business 365 days a year.

Since the roulette wheel started spinning on New Year's Day, the Lions have made 172 player transactions to build a roster that currently has 53 active players, four on injured reserve and eight on the practice squad.

The 172 transactions include players signed, drafted and released. Some players are involved in multiple transactions – signed, released and signed again, for example.

The 172 total includes every player move except signing draft picks.

Some moves were procedural, like the 12 players signed on Jan. 1 in the Reserve/Future contract category. Others were more meaningful, such as the addition of unrestricted free agents Reggie Bush and Glover Quin, and the re-signing of free agents Chris Houston and Louis Delmas.

They are all part of how NFL teams continue to build and upgrade their rosters and fill in cracks in an emergency from a ready list of prospects who have been evaluated.

For the Lions, the signing of free agent receiver Kevin Ogletree last week was transaction No. 172, and it comes at a crucial time in the season when injuries have hit hard at wide receiver.

The Lions are 3-2 and hoping to retain at least a share of first place in the NFC North as they go to Cleveland on Sunday to play the Browns, also 3-2 and tied with Baltimore and Cincinnati for first place in the AFC North.

Kevin OgletreeKevin Ogletree (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Ogletree could play an important role against the Browns.

Calvin Johnson did not play in last week's loss at Green Bay because of a knee injury, and Nate Burleson has missed the last two games with a broken left arm that is likely to sideline him for another month.

Without Johnson, the Lions were ineffective on offense against the Packers. Without a threat at wide receiver, the Packers suffocated the Lions' running game.

With the Lions firmly in contention for a playoff berth, they could not afford to do nothing and wait for Johnson's return. They signed Ogletree the Wednesday before the Green Bay game. Ogletree had been cut the day before by the Tampa Bay Bucs. He spent the previous four seasons in Dallas.

With two days of practice, Ogletree played six snaps against the Packers and caught two passes for gains of 11 and nine yards. He likely will get more playing time Sunday if Johnson does not play.

The Lions have a book on Ogletree from evaluations done before the need arose to add a receiver.

"That doesn't start during the season," Coach Jim Schwartz said. "Our pro personnel department works year round on stuff like that. Even guys who aren't free agents, they continually grade players from other teams.

"That grade is reflective of how they're playing with one team, but it also is reflective of how they would fit with us."

Three weeks ago, the Cleveland game fit in as a win on the Lions' schedule. Things have changed. The Browns have a three-game winning streak, and the Lions have a limping offense without Johnson and a pass-rush that has not been consistently good.

The Lions should gather themselves when they return home after Sunday for games against the Bengals and Cowboys at Ford Field.

But for Sunday, the Browns have caught the Lions at the right time.

Sunday prediction:

My pick: Browns 21, Lions 20.

Fresh hands:

Injuries at receiver and the potential that tight end Tony Scheffler won't play mean the Lions need a lift in the passing game.

At 6-1 and 198 pounds, Ogletree has the size that the Lions are looking for in an outside receiver, and he catches the ball with his hands, as opposed to trapping it against his body.

"He's a young veteran," Schwartz said. "He made some plays in the past. He's got a lot of physical talent."

Ogletree's two receptions against the Packers were off the same play. He lined up right and slanted left to get open.

Matthew Stafford didn't hesitate to go to him. Ogletree caught an 11-yard pass for a first down on the sixth play of the game. He had a nine-yard catch in the second half.

A full week of practice has made Ogletree feel more comfortable in the offense.

"That muscle memory is starting to kick in on these plays," he said. "You draw them up enough times, they make sense and you feel more comfortable doing your job."

When Stafford went to him the first time, he said he didn't think of anything except catching the ball.

"Just make a play," Ogletree said. "That's what I'm here for. My number got called. Matt put the ball on me, and it was a good completion.

"As far as getting you in the right place and letting you know what to do, I've never been around a quarterback that puts you in a great position where you don't have to worry about anything. It's just football -- go here."

Lions-Browns history:

The Lions have a 14-4 series lead, winning five of the last six regular season meetings and the last two – 13-10 on the road in 2005 and 38-37 at Ford Field in 2009.

Champs vs. champs: The Lions and Browns were dominant teams in the 1950s. They played for the league championship four times from 1952-57. The Lions won three times – 17-7 in 1952, 17-16 in '53 and 59-14 in '57. The Browns won the 1954 game, 56-10.

Stats pack:

Lions rankings: Offense – 22 rushing, 6 passing, 9 total; Defense – 24 rushing, 20 passing, 24 total.
Browns rankings: Offense – 24 rushing, 17 passing, 27 total; Defense – 8 rushing, 7 passing, 4 total.

Key Lions stats: Plus 4 in turnover ratio – 11 takeaways, 7 giveaways; second on defense in third-down conversion percentage (17-63, 27 pct.); 8 sacks allowed, 5 last week vs. Packers.

Key Browns stats: 26th on offense in sacks allowed per play (22); seventh on defense in sacks per play (18 total); fourth on defense in yards allowed per game (301.8).

Browns player focus:

Rookie Barkevious Mingo attracted a lot of attention leading up to the draft in April, and for good reasons. His combine workouts put him at the top of the charts for outside linebackers and defensive ends.

The Browns took him sixth overall out of LSU, one pick after the Lions took defensive end Ziggy Ansah of Brigham Young.

Based on performance, both teams drafted the right man. Ansah is a powerful presence at right defensive end in the Lions' 4-3 scheme, and Mingo has given the Browns an athletic outside linebacker who fits their 3-4 scheme.

There was no doubt about Mingo's athleticism, but his size – 6-4 and 240 pounds – raised questions about whether he was big enough to play end on a 4-3 defense.

Left tackle Riley Reiff will have the primary responsibility of blocking Mingo, who has three sacks and four pass breakups in four games. Mingo missed the opener because of a bruised lung sustained in the preseason.

"He is a high energy guy," Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said of Mingo. "He has the athleticism, but he plays hard, doesn't take a snap off and plays to the whistle.

"I think he's a lot stronger and plays with a lot better leverage than you think. You think of him as a quick, fast athletic guy, but he can play the other way as well."